Long after the ANZAC commemorations had finished, when The World Masters Games contestants were either celebrating their success or limping toward the nearest A&E, a largely unheralded gig took place at the KMC in Shortland Street. It was fitting, that on a day of remembrance, the faithful old war horses, the standards, were honoured. It is surprisingly rare to see a standards only instrumental gig these days. The event was curated by Kevin Haines and what a treat it was. The definition of what makes a Jazz standard is a moveable feast, but the safest definition is that the tunes are, or were, from the standard repertoire. Most, but not all standards come from the Great American Songbook, e.g. Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Victor Young, Duke Ellington Ira & George Gershwin etc. Many of them, and often the best, from failed musicals. Other Jazz standards come from the pen of gifted composers like Sonny Rollins. When introducing the band, Haines stated,” The ability to play the standards well, is the benchmark against which Jazz musicians are ultimately judged”. Assembled on the bandstand were some of New Zealand’s finest musicians. Kevin Haines (bass), Nathan Haines (tenor & soprano saxophones, vocal), Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Ron Samsom (drums). The band gave it everything and the exchanges were beautiful – Nacey and Field conjuring up the Evans/Hall duos, Nathan Haines making his tenor sound like the Desmond Alto. The night was well attended and it will certainly be remembered.
The set list on the night was magnificent, with several surprises nestled among the more famous standards: (1) Beautiful Love (tune composed in 1931 by King/Young/Alstyne – it was featured in two long forgotten movies during 1932) (2) Tarde (Milton Nascimento 1969 – immensely popular in Brazil but popularised in Jazz circles by Wayne Shorter). (3) Alone Together (Schwartz/Dietz 1932 – from the musical ‘Flying Colours’). (4) But Not For Me (tune George Gershwin, 1930, from the musical ‘Girl Crazy’). (5) impossible Beauty (Nathan Haines 2000 – a New Zealand standard if ever there was one -from his album ‘Sound Travels’). (6) If I should lose You (tune by Rainger 1936 – used in the film ‘Rose of the Rancho’. (7) Stella by Starlight (tune by Victor Young 1944 used as the score in the film ‘The uninvited’ rated the 10th most popular standard in the world). (8) Detour Ahead (Herb Ellis, Johnny Frigo and probably Lou Carter, 1947 – a true Jazz Standard, famously played by BIll Evans on his Village Vanguard sessions and later, and closer to home by Vince Jones), (9) All The Things You Are (tune by Jerome Kern, 1939, written for the musical ‘Very Warm for May’ played frequently, sometimes parodied, often messed with, much-loved).
I can’t remember when I first became conscious of Polish Jazz, but after Tomasz Stanko, Poland was forever on my listening radar. After that, I would listen to Polish improvisers whenever I came across them, Wasilewski, Komeda etc, and all the more so when I discovered later in life that I was a quarter Polish. In light of the above, I was naturally interested when I came across an Auckland-based, Polish-born pianist Michal Martyniuk. He was standing in for Kevin Field at a Nathan Haines gig – around the time of “The Poets Embrace’ release. Since then I have seen him with various iterations of Haines’ bands but until last week, never at a gig where he was the leader. It is an oft-debated topic, but I sometimes hear references to time and place in original music. After hearing Martyniuk I could identify his northern European influences. When I asked the pianist about the artists he most admires, he quickly identified Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny (also Weather Report plus Miles and Herbie). The Metheny/Mays reference is definitely evident but sifted through a Eurocentric filter. Mays, although influenced by Evans never sounded like a typical American pianist. Martyniuk’s compositions and performance contain all of the hallmarks of modern Euro jazz, a sound I hear in the Alboran Trio, Wasilewski and younger pianists like Michal Tokaj. A warmer sound than the Scandinavian pianists but as light filled and airy. There is a beauty to Martyiuk’s playing, a stylistic identity. For such a young pianist to have located this special sound is impressive.Something that many post-millennial Jazz musicians avoid, is evoking a sense of beauty. I can understand that because it must be done well or not at all. It is the territory of balladeers like Ben Webster and the territory of artists like Metheny. This was done well. The compositions were cleverly constructed around developing themes and with nothing was rushed, allowing melodic inventions to manifest. The tunes were also cleverly modulated, subtly amping up the tension to good effect at key points. Like Bennie Lackner, he used electronic keyboards to enhance or emphasize a phrase, but very sparingly.Again we see a musician deploying a top rated rhythm section to good advantage. With McArthur and Samsom behind him, he again showed wisdom. He worked with them and they gave him plenty in return. Although we often see this particular bass player and drummer in diverse situations, they appeared very comfortable here. The overall effect was that of interplay and cohesion.
Martyniuk is often asked to play in Haines bands and he returned the favour here. Haines joined the trio for four numbers. This was Haines in a reflective mood, in spite of his status, fitting in comfortably. His beautiful soprano tone a good fit for these compositions and his richer tenor likewise. Again the arrangements created a particular mood. After the unspeakable ugly horrors in the world at present, it was a relief to hear such a gorgeous performance. A night of music to heal our bruised souls.Martyniuk came to New Zealand around ten years ago and he attended the Auckland School of Music. Along with producer Nick Williams, he is soon to release a Jazz infused Soul album which will feature internationally renowned artists like Kevin Mark Trail, Nathan Haines, Miguel Fuentes and others. Judging by the huge audience at this gig his future looks very rosy indeed. The Jazz club turned away dozens of attendees in the end. A good problem to have. Michal Martyniuk Trio (+ Nathan Haines). Michal Martyniuk (compositions, piano, keys), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums). The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, 13th July 2016.
Musicians of a certain calibre are peripatetic, going where the music or the work takes them. This partly arising out of necessity, but also out of an impulse to explore new sonic and cultural environments. When a child or a grandchild arrives the musicians journeys circumscribe smaller arcs and are less frequent; the local scene being the beneficiary. This is the case with Nathan Haines; happily young Zoot tethers him in our midst for the moment. Haines has a solid reputation here and in the UK, with a loyal fan base in both locations. He has never been afraid to push in new directions, but at the heart of whatever explorations he embarks upon, a default soulfulness underpins the enterprise. This leads him to productive collaborations with like-minded artists, and not necessarily all Jazz purists. From the Hardbop-infused to Soul Jazz to DJ funk – it all works for him. While all of these collaborations are pleasing, none is more so than when he plays alongside brother Joel Haines.The Haines brothers have different musical careers, Nathan Haines outgoing, a public performer and award-winning recording artist – understanding well, the vexed world of marketing and the presentation of non-mainstream music. He balances these competing forces better than most. Brother Joel is a successful composer and a gifted performer as well, but his career these days centres on TV and film work. An engaging musician and a crowd pleaser; less in the public gaze by choice. Improvised music thrives on contrasts and the rub between different sounds always works well in the right hands. Nathan creating soulful innovative grooves and catchy melodies over traditional Jazz offerings, Joel bringing a warm-as-toast Jazzgroove edge, wrapped in a blues/rock package.
The first set kicked off with ‘Eboness’ by Yusef Lateef. A number that Nathan Haines recorded on his award-winning and popular ‘The Poets Embrace’ album. That album recreated the vibe of a particular era – the edge of Blue Note and the warmth of Impulse updated. This version is an exercise in skilfully blended contrasts. The enveloping warmth of Joel Haines and Keys/Synth player Michal Martyniuk created a platform for Nathan Haines to work over. This skilfully juxtaposed blend of ‘cool’ and ‘soul’ is not done often and hearing this I wonder why. Haines playing Lateef is a natural fit, as Lateef was never afraid to stretch beyond mainstream Jazz sensibilities.Next up was ‘Desert Town’ a Haines tune from ‘Heaven & Earth’. That was followed by an earthy version of ‘Set us Free’ (Eddie Harris) and then ‘Mastermind’ (Haines) from his recent ‘5 a Day’ album. Last up on the first set was ‘Land Life’ a tune based on a Harold Land composition. It pleased me to get a mention from the bandstand at this point. It is no secret that I’m a real Harold Land enthusiast. The band tore up the propulsive changes and moving free, made the tune their own.
The second set began with the stunning tune ‘Right Now’ (Haines/Crayford). This collaboration was extremely fruitful and we will see a new project from these musicians in the near future. Next up was a tune by keys player Michal Martyniuk. This had never been aired in public before and its trippy synth-rich vibe took me back to the space Jazz/funk of the 80’s. Appropriately, and immediately following, was a Benny Maupin number ‘It Remains to be Seen’. This is a space-funk classic from his fabulous ‘Slow Traffic to the Right’ album. The album cut in 1978 – at a time when a plethora of wonderful analogue machines entered the market. It was great to hear a number from this scandalously overlooked experimental era – and reprised so effectively. More of this please guys, much more.
The set ended with two more numbers, including a reflective and soul drenched composition by Joel Haines. The tune is temporarily titled ‘Untitled’. Whatever the name, it worked for us. The ‘Nathan Haines Electric Band’ is by now an established entity and the ease with which they hit their groove confirms that. Having the ever inventive and highly talented Cameron McArthur on bass gave them a groove anchor and punch. Rounding that off with Stephen Thomas on drums gave lift off. I highly recommend this group as there is something there for anyone with Jazz sensibilities. History and modernity in balance.
Nathan Haines Electric Band
Nathan Haines Electric Band: Nathan Haines (winds and reeds), Joel Haines (guitar), Michal Martyniuk (keys and synthesiser), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 13th April 2016
Doug Lawrence is every bit the archetypal southern tenor man, from the top of his tall frame to the bell of his brightly shining tenor. His sound is fat and down-home-cooking rich, whether playing softly or at volume. He has more cut through than a diamond headed drill-bit. Lawrence has such considerable credentials that it is beyond my reach to enumerate them all here (google him).
He arrived in New Zealand several weeks ago as lead tenor player for the Basie Band. It was a sellout concert in the Civic and we marvelled at the tightness and punch of their sound. Eighty years on the road will do that. Kansas City swing is a wonder of the universe and seeing Lawrence solo in front of that famous orchestra told us that we were in for another treat. Unbelievably our CJC Jazz club had booked him to appear in a few days. At first we wondered how this came about, but we were soon to learn of a long-standing connection between him and the CJC’s Roger Manins. A wonderful Jazz back story informed this gig and we were the lucky beneficiaries.Lawrence is tall and as he performs he stoops slightly, forming a classic old school playing pose. Slowing bending his knees inwards before stretching and lifting his horn to the ceiling. His speaking voice is rich like his playing, a southern Louisiana drawl adding to his considerable charm. The first number was ‘End of a love Affair (Redding) and the audience whooped in delight as the band took the changes at a good pace. The rhythm section propelled by the tidal waves of sound emanating from the tenor. It was that sound and the power of delivery that grabbed you from the get go. The intonation and phrasing revealing influences which although readily identifiable, transformed them into a new sound. This was pure alchemy. It was like having Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon on the same band stand.It is during ballads that the skill of a musician is often tested. In this case we saw something close to perfection. It wasn’t just Lawrence, but his Kiwi pickup band as well. Spurred on by each other, they dug deeper and deeper. A night and a vibe that we will remember for years to come. There was an obvious rapport between pianist Kevin Field and Lawrence. I gather that he found Field’s harmonic approach interesting and perhaps this is an indication of our own development as we grow our standing. Lawrence’s intonation was the thing that grabbed you most and this made his solos particularly enjoyable. Long held notes ending in breathy flurries or else bending the note ever so slightly before delivering a short heart stopping burst of controlled vibrato. With Holland and Samsom also finding their sweet spot this was a dream band.
There were a few evergreen Basie numbers like the swinging ‘Shiny Stockings’ (Foster) and ‘Jumping by the Woodside’ (Basie) but the biggest surprise came later when Lawrence invited Roger Manins and Nathan Haines up to join him. Leaning into the microphone he announced ‘Impressions’ by John Coltrane. This was a change of pace devoured by club audience and band alike as they dove deeper and deeper into the crazy off the grid modal grooves. Its true what they say. Cats like this can do anything when the spirit moves them. The spirit was sure among us that night.Here is the back story: 17 years ago a younger Roger Manins hit the New York streets, where he learned to scuffle in the time-honoured way of Jazz musicians. Because he possessed the hunger to learn he approached many established horn players. One of these was Doug Lawrence and traces of that time are still evident in Manins sound. All of those years ago Manins subbed for him and here is a Face Book extract that Lawrence posted once he returned to the USA. “Roger has matured into a GREAT player and MAGNIFICENT teacher! All of his students have a SOUND and they are all inspired to play, because of Roger. The curriculum at the University of Auckland Jazz Department is second to none, and I am going to use it as my model when conducting masterclasses at other universities around the world. Roger and Ron Samsom and the rest of the faculty have got it right at the U of A and I’m going to suggest that each and every University I teach at check it out. Cheers ROG! You are doing it ALL right brother! I hope to see and play with you soon mate!” That says it all really.
The last phase of the evening is best described as Tenor Madness. At times three tenors played in unison, at other times Nathan Haines keening Soprano took up the challenge. When Manins and Haines (plus Haines father Kevin) took to the stage we found ourselves in 1940’s Kansas City. Witnessing the good-natured, but no holds barred tenor battles of old. At the end of the second set the audience nearly rioted. No-one wanted this night to end. Lawrence asked for another drink and picked up his saxophone again. “My plane for the States doesn’t leave for five hours, lets play on”, he said. And they did.
You can purchase Doug Lawrence’s ‘New Organ Trio album’ from iTunes, Cactus Records or from Amazon. Please show your appreciation for these amazing artists by purchasing their recordings.
Who: The Doug Lawrence Quartet – plus guests: Doug Lawrence (Tenor Saxophone, Kevin Field (piano), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – Guests: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Nathan Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Kevin Haines (bass).
Nathan Haines is a master of the melodic and the model and he has a beautiful and distinctive sound on all his horns (and winds). He has a strong following around the world and it is no wonder when he turns on gigs like this. His following crosses genres, attracting younger and older audiences equally. He also cuts through media blind spots in a way that few other New Zealand improvising musicians do. It is good to have him on home soil for a while and good that he is focussing on fresh local projects. What he does is always exciting and this gig was no exception.The talented and hard-working, Haines always thinks through his projects. Hot on the heals of his successful award-winning Jazz albums ‘Poets Embrace’ and ‘Vermillion Skies’ he has again teamed up with arrangers Wayne Senior and Mike Booth. The decision to include more Jazz vocals is a welcome development. There’s a paucity of male jazz singers in the modern world and they’re a rarity in New Zealand. The set list was an interesting mix of Haines originals and a few Jazz standards seldom heard live. Like his recent Jazz projects, these tunes evoked and reinterpreted the classic era of the 50’s. Consequently they oozed cool. With Michal Martyniuk on piano, Kevin Haines on bass and Ron Samsom on drums he was already on solid ground. This is also where Haines excels. He is a bandleader who choses his musicians well. Martyniuk made his presence felt and soloed beautifully while never over playing. It was exactly what these charts required. Kevin Haines is a highly-respected, tasteful bass player with an impeccable CV. During the sets smiles and friendly banter flowed between father and son; further enhancing the mood. The highly experienced Samsom was on drums throughout. He is new to Haines lineups. His approach to the kit springs from a confident inner logic; more organic than Haines usual drummers. It was interesting to watch their interactions as they sparked off each other. Samsom giving Haines a different platform to work from.
The first few numbers were quartet only and the gorgeous and evocative ‘The Night Air’ opened the set. This is a lovely composition by Haines, with the warmth and vibe of a classic Impulse vinyl album (see clip). His tone is unique and especially evident when doing this material. It immediately took me back to hearing Pharoah Sanders for the first time. When Haines plays these modal pieces, there’s a spiritual joy that comes across. This is a strong suit for him and for those of us who love that era a balm.
As the set progressed the ensemble doubled to include a four piece horn section. There were distinct tonal and textural qualities to this ‘Little Big Band’; differing from his ‘Vermillion Skies’ horn section as that had French horns. The line up of trombone, tenor Saxophone, Alto saxophone and trumpet/flugal worked well. From ‘Vermillion Skies’ we heard J. J. Johnson’s ballad ‘lament’ and the vocal ‘Navarino Street’. Wayne Senior and Mike Booth had worked on the arrangements and few in New Zealand can match their arranging skills. Perhaps the greatest pleasure was hearing an arrangement of ‘Boplicity’ from the 1949 Miles Davis album ‘Birth of Cool’. Few bands tackle this and more’s the pity. The octet horn section were Mike Booth, Roger Manins, Callum Passells and Hayden Godfrey.
It’s always good to hear Haines singing and I think we will hear more of that in future. That said, as long as Haines puts a tenor saxophone to his lips he will draw audiences because his tenor playing infects us with joyousness. There’s a real warmth to his playing and if you have listened to Jazz for as long as I have, your memories will quickly conjure the days of Coltrane, Lateef or Sanders. On nights like this you feel the best of your yesteryear listening captured, then gifted back to you. As I filmed I noticed the famous artist Billy Apple sitting beside me. He leaned forward smiling and said, “This is wonderful, the vibe is just like a New York Jazz club of the 50’s or 60’s”. He is right.
Who: Nathan Haines Quartet & Octet – Nathan Haines (tenor, saxophone, vocals, compositions)- Michal Martyniuk (piano), Kevin Haines (bass), Ron Samsom (drums), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugel, arrangements), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Hayden Godfrey (trombone), – conductor arranger Wayne Senior.
Where:(CJC Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 27th May 2015
On Wednesday five well turned out ‘men in black’ suspended time at Auckland University. This was a rare event, pairing two of New Zealand’s best known and best-loved contemporary tenor players. The invitation only concert billed as ‘Nathan Haines meets DOG’ kicked off of the Universities 2015 Summer Concert Series. New intake students attending (or viewing the video clip) discovered just how high the standard is; they also realised how lucky they are to have these teachers and these role models.The Nathan Haines/DOG line up can rightly be described as a super-group; the cream of New Zealand’s improvising artists. We saw Haines at his best here as he showcased his formidable talents on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute & vocals. He is a multiple New Zealand Music Awards winner and perennially popular in New Zealand and London where he is now based. The DOG band members are all senior teaching staff at the Auckland University Jazz School (Faculty of the Arts). Collectively Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Oli Holland (bass) and Kevin Field (piano) form a dangerous new breed. The agility and intelligence of the animal has led many to speculate on its lineage; some suggesting Greyhound crossed with Border Collie? We will never know unless the parents own up, but it is beyond dispute that each band member has multiple acclaimed recordings to his credit. DOG is one of three groups short-listed for the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.
Supergroups are not always successful as promoters will tell you. It may seem counter intuitive, but there are many pitfalls in the format. Artistic and stylistic sensibilities can conflict and while less of an issue in Jazz, the rider still applies. Not every configuration gels. Putting two titans of the tenor together is an old concept and it was very popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s. These jousts or ‘cutting contests’ and the so-called battles between Lester Young and Bean (Colman Hawkins) have attained legendary status. There is a lot of mythology in the subsequent reportage and most musicians view the exchanges as a chance to collaborate; not cut someone down to size. It is an opportunity to challenge and be challenged; a high level musical interaction between equals. At its best it can bring out something special in both artists and Wednesdays gig achieved just that.
Manins and Haines played classic Selmer Mk 6 tenors but in the hands of each the instruments sounded different (although manufactured just 3 years apart). Their beautiful full-throated tenors blended perfectly and especially during the heads; creating a fat rich sound. The instruments when coaxed by experienced players like these, magnify subtle differences in tone. There is an attractive melodic thoughtfulness to Nathan’s improvisations, while Roger’s explorations can impart a wild edgy heart stopping quality. Both find their bliss and share it with the audience. This pairing on this night, will long be talked about in Auckland.
The band leapt out of the starting gate with a crackling rendition of ‘Cheesecake’ by Dexter Gordon. This classic hard bop tune from ‘Dex’s’ Blue Note era gave the musicians a chance to shine. Both Selmers bit hard and with Field, Holland and Samsom playing behind them it was hardly surprising. The accolades heaped upon this particular rhythm section are unsurprising. Field’s comping was as tasteful as his well constructed solos. Hollands clean punchy bass lines were a beating heart in the mix. It fell to Samsom to control the energy levels and when appropriate he pushed the band to ever greater heights. On the up tempo numbers his facial expressions mirrored each rhythmic flurry as he dug ever deeper.
The set also featured a new ballad by Holland who introduced it with a tongue in cheek reference to the complexity of many modern Jazz compositions, “you will like this. It has a melody and lots of chords”. The remainder of the set featured Haines compositions. These compelling, well constructed tunes are by now familiar to local Jazz audiences. This band gave them fresh legs. Of note was the gorgeous ‘Lady Lywa’ which had Manins on tenor and Haines on flute. Once again the pairing worked to perfection.
Near the end (and to the delight of those familiar with this tune) Nathan sang ‘Impossible Beauty’ from his ‘Sound Travels’ album. There is a lot to like about this haunting song; Nathan’s voice, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the way the tune captures that dreamy Chet Baker vibe. To hear it with Roger Manins providing lovely fills on tenor was a treat. I know that I keep saying this, but Haines needs to sing more often. He is widely acknowledged as a gifted tenor, soprano and flute player; time to add vocals to the accolades.
As I was leaving I spotted the well-known arranger Wayne Senior. He is especially familiar with this venue as it was once the main studio of Television New Zealand. He has worked on pervious projects with Haines. The National Institute of Creative Arts & Industries (NiCAi) filmed the video and I acknowledge them. Lastly all credit to the Arts Facility, Music Department of Auckland University. This University Jazz programme adds inestimable richness to our cultural life. With the Philistines ever at the gate, you persist in supporting the creative arts. Thank you.
Where: Auckland University Jazz School, Shortland Street Auckland New Zealand 18th February 2015
Who: Nathan Haines, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samsom
After the success of ‘Poets Embrace’ it is hardly surprising that Nathan Haines new album ‘Vermillion Skies’ has climbed so high in the charts. The album was the fifth best selling New Zealand album the last time I looked and this happened within days of its release by Warners. For a modern Jazz album anywhere to achieve this success is unprecedented. This has followed hot on the heals of ‘Poets Embrace’ winning the Tui Awards ‘Best Jazz Album of 2012’.
Anyone who knows Nathan will hardly be surprised to learn of his obsessive commitment to the last two projects. His approach has been Ghandalf like, as it involved a long period of woodshedding, an epic journey in search of analogue equipment and a reconciliation with the gods of past times. While Poets Embrace plumbed the depths of Coltrane’s vocabulary, Vermillion Skies has opened up the perspective and tapped into the wider ethos of 1950’s Jazz. What Vermillion Skies is not however is a cosy journey down memory lane.
It is about examining the epiphanies and sounds of the 50’s era and interpreting them with modern sensibilities. With the exception of one number, these are fresh compositions; a happy synthesis between past and present. Deliberately retro though is the analogue recording methodology. A one-take take approach and sound augmented by the use of reverb (not using a plate).
I followed the Vermillion Skies project from its inception and because I was in contact with the musicians via Face Book it was not difficult to keep abreast of progress. Alain Koetsier was returning from China, Nathan was returning from the UK and to use ‘GCSB speak’ there was a heightened level of ‘chatter’ about town.
Their fist gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and at this point the tunes had never been aired before. Some tunes were in embryonic form and they had only been rehearsed briefly. We were a focus group Nathan informed us; musical crash test dummies. The audience loved the gig but they knew that even better was to come.
A month later the musicians and veteran London Producer Mike Patto headed into the York Street studios to cut the tracks. The album was recorded in around two days of mostly live takes. To obtain an authentic reverb sound Nathan used the studio car-park, which is a huge cavernous brick building, resembling a stripped out Victorian cathedral. The neighbours in the posh Edwardian apartments next to the studio lacked the cool to appreciate this innovation. The reverberating horns made one of them complain (in tears) as the fulsome brassy sounds echoed across Parnell rise.
A few weeks after the recording Nathan contacted me and asked if I would interview him at York Street for the promotional video. I turned up a few hours before the appointed time and asked Jeremy (who runs the studio) if I could hear the masters. Hearing the material in its final form and in that space was a revelation. I quizzed Jeremy and Nathan about aspects of recording. I learned that the piano was isolated in a booth, but the drums and horn section were in the larger space with the saxophone. When it came to the vocals the band went home; those tracks were recorded without onlookers.
Nathan has sung on a previous album but he readily admits that it is not his comfort zone. It interested me that he didn’t have the same degree of confidence in his singing abilities as his voice is simply superb. In my view it compares favourably with Mark Murphy’s. The charts are well written and the hooks in ‘Navareno Street’ are so powerful that I am still hearing them in my head weeks later.
Interviewing Nathan Haines is a pleasure as he is knowledgeable, articulate and expansive when prompted. Because he is across his topic he can talk at length about the minutia of the project, but what was surprising was they way he allowed me to discuss his vulnerabilities. His warmth and often self-effacing commentary gave the interview an added depth.
On April 9th the official launch occurred at the ‘Q’ Theatre in Queen Street Auckland. The tickets sold out quickly. The theatre is well suited for such a performance as it has the space, sight-lines and well padded surfaces. This enabled good sound control. Unlike the CJC gig, there were twelve musicians appearing (not quite the full album line-up which had a 15 piece band on one track). The first half featured the basic quartet with a few guest artists such as brother Joel Haines on guitar and two others. Joel can channel the rock god thing while fitting perfectly into a Jazz ensemble. His sound is modern but his lines are Jazz. Also on stage was John Bell the multi talented vibist. John Bell’s contribution added texture and depth. He does not rely on heavy vibrato, favouring a more minimalist approach. I reflected that I had last seen him in a decidedly avant-garde setting. This was far from Albert Ayler but as always his musicianship impressed. Mike Booth (lead trumpet in the horn section) also appeared in the first half. Mike Booth has a clean tone on trumpet and flugal and is the go to guy for anything involving horn sections or Jazz orchestras. His sight-reading skills are as impressive as his performance skills.
by John Chapman
In the second set, a six piece horn section joined in and the arranger Wayne Senior conducted the ten piece band. Wayne Senior is part of the history of New Zealand Jazz and he is especially renowned for his work with TV and Radio orchestras. His ensemble arranging is legendary. The six piece horn-section was two French horns, Two trumpet/flugal horns, a trombone and a bass trombone.
I love nonets and tentets as they have a big sound while leaving room for a band to breathe. The textural qualities of this tentet and the rich voicings were particularly noteworthy. ‘Frontier West’ (by Nathan Haines) left the audience gasping in delight as the ‘Birth of the Cool’ vibe in modern clothing gave us a rare treat. Such wonders are seldom heard in this country. The last item (and the only tune not written by Nathan) was the aching beautiful ballad ‘Lament’ by J. J. Johnson. The best known version of this is on the ‘Miles Ahead’ album. That Gil Evans arrangement involves a 20 piece orchestra. Wayne Senior re-arranged this for tentet and the results are amazing. Nathan caught every nuance of the tune as he built his improvisation around the rich voicings. I am in no doubt that the ‘Lament’ on ‘Vermillion Skies’ compares favourably with the best historic versions (Miles, JJ Johnson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk).
The performances on the album and at the various gigs have all been different. This is because it is Jazz where ‘you never play anything the same way once’ and because there have been personnel changes along the way. As leader and player, Nathan Haines always seems to squeeze that bit extra out of each performance. His intense focus on the tenor of late has been good for him and good for us as his approach to this material while fluid, never looses its edge. He is arriving at that enviable place where people will say after one bar, “oh….that has to be Nathan Haines”.
Kevin Field and Nathan go back a long way and their chemistry is evident. Kevin is the pianist of choice for many local and visiting bands. As an accompanist he never looses sight of what an accompanist is there for. He can shine during the piano solos, but his fills, deftly placed chords and subtle comping speak to his other strengths. It was often necessary for him to keep out-of-the-way of the other instruments (such as the horn section which occupied a register that he would normally utilise). Drummer Alain Koetsier returned to New Zealand for the recording and his drum chops and musicality had not subsided during his sabbatical away from Jazz performance. He is a fine musician and sorely missed on the Auckland scene now that he resides in China. The bass player Ben Turua is also rock solid on the recording. I have heard him play often but never better than here. Sadly he has since departed for Sydney, where he will no doubt flourish as do many Kiwi Jazz expats.
The departure of Alain Koetsier and Ben Turua left a gap and so the original recording lineup was amended for the gigs to include Stephen Thomas on drums and Cameron MacArthur on bass. I cannot speak highly enough of Stephen Thomas. He has been on the scene for a few years and if anyone was going to fill Alain’s shoes it would be him. He is a hard-working young drummer who demonstrates his passion and skill every time he sits at the kit. The other replacement was Cameron McArthur who is still a student at Auckland university. This was a big step up for him and he took it with ease. His bass solo at the ‘Q’ Theatre brought a huge applause and like Stephen Thomas we can expect great things of him.
This album marks another high watermark in New Zealand Jazz as it is brave enough to confront the past without being captured by it. Nathan Haines is heading back to London in a few weeks and we can’t begrudge him that. His ascendency offshore is our gain and we should never forget that these two great albums have been recorded in Auckland, New Zealand and with Kiwi musicians.
Who: The Nathan Haines Band. Album – Nathan Haines (tenor sax, vocals, leader, composer). Kevin Field (piano), Ben Turua (bass) , Alain Koetsier (drums), Joel Haines (guitar – 2,5), Leon Stenning (guitars -5), Mickey Utugawa (Drums – 5), Mike Booth (lead trumpet, flugal), Paul Norman (trumpet, flugal), David Kay (French horn), Simon Williams (French horn), Haydn Godfrey (trombone), John Gluyas (bass trombone), John Bell (vibraphone 2-5), ‘Big’ Cody Wilkington (steel guitar, vocals, percussion – 5), Wayne senior (arranger, session/launch gig conductor). ‘Q’ Theatre and later gigs replace Koetsier with Stephen Thomas (drums), replace Ben Turua with Cameron McArthur (bass).
Notwithstanding the obvious resemblance between these grizzled old guys, Jazz April is no joking matter. To avoid being an April Fool participate in as many Jazz April activities as you can. Remember to ‘like‘ and ‘share‘ this and any other Jazz April pages that you come across. Don’t monkey about; ape the trend-setters and brand your Face Book picture with a Jazz April badge like cousin Boris (left) and I (right) did. This is a month set aside to promote and honour Jazz and its practitioners. The best way of achieving this is by sharing our enjoyment with others. If they see and hear what we experience they will want to participate. Take the pledge and agree that you will visit as many Jazz events as possible during April. If that is difficult you should at least participate online.
I have posted some logos which you should share indiscriminately. If the internet slows down due to the volume of ‘shares‘ we will know that you have done your bit. Think of it as a ‘Wikileaks’ for music lovers. The world needs to know this secret.
There will be hundreds of Jazz April celebrations occurring world-wide and the events will culminate in UNESCO’s ‘International Jazz Day‘ which is April 30th 2013. The venue for the main Jazz Day event this year is Istanbul Turkey and Herbie Hancock is joined by a number of Jazz Luminaries like Hugh Masakela, Marcus Miller and Manu Katche. If your city does not have an event planned you could consider hosting one. If you do let me know and I will pass the information on to the Jazz Journalists Association.
In New Zealand the ‘Waiheke Jazz Festival’ and the ‘Tauranga Jazz Festival’ can be considered a good segue into Jazz April as they are both held over Easter weekend. Auckland has a number of Jazz April events occurring and there will be a satellite party celebration at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) during April. Check out the CJC website as there is a good gig guide.
In Auckland the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) will be featuring some spectacular Jazz April Gigs and we will be making a presentation to a few deserving local musicians at a JJA Satellite Party (date to be announced shortly). The CJC line up so far is Nacey/Samsom/Haines (3rd April), Brian Smith Quartet (10th April), Kevin Field Trio (17th April) …more gigs to come. For those who missed last years satellite party at the CJC, Roger Manins was inducted as a ‘Jazz Hero‘ by the Jazz Journalists Association.
A highlight event will be the Nathan Haines‘Vermillion Skies’ album Release on the 6th April at the ‘Q Theatre’, Queen Street, Auckland. This amazing album involves a number of our best-loved Jazz musicians and it will be a high point in the Auckland Jazz calendar. Don’t miss this event or forget to buy the album (available in download/CD/vinyl).
There will also be gigs at the ‘Ponsonby Social Club‘, the ‘Grand Central‘ (both in Ponsonby Road) and for experimental improvised music ‘The Wine Bar ‘Vitamin S‘ St Kevin’s Arcade, The Auckland Jazz and Blues Club (Tuesday evenings Pt Chevalier RSA), The ‘Titirangi Music Festival’ Titirangi Village (where the Alan Brown band is playing in the ‘Tool Room” on Friday the 5th April@ 7: 30pm).
Jazz April is now a world-wide event and I know that NZ will not let the side down. My April posts will be profiled on the JJA Facebook page and or webpage. The choices Auckland is offering over April 2013 are many and varied. Locals have absolutely no excuse for not supporting Jazz this month, so see you all there.
JazzLocal32.com – Jazz Journalists Association member
My recent travels to the USA led to many musical adventures, but as good as those experiences were I had missed the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and our local musicians. There is a passion and sometimes a raw edge in New Zealand Jazz which I find compelling.
The first gig I attended upon my return was the Nathan Haines CJC gig. This had been widely anticipated and after the success of ‘Poets Embrace’ the rumours of a new album had started to circulate. Just before Christmas Nathan Haines returned from London for a month or so and not long after Alain Koetsier returned from China. The rumours became fact as there is definitely a new album in the making. The band was well received at London’s ‘Ronnie Scotts‘ last year and an overwhelmingly positive review appeared in the influential ‘London Jazz’. That gig had reunited most of the ‘Poets Embrace’ band.
By the time of the ‘Ronny’s’ gig Nathan had moved back to London, while Kevin Field and Alain Koetsier flew in to join him. When a good band like this travels exposure to wider markets occurs. This can bring rewards. Having Warners behind Nathan proved fortuitous and ‘Poets Embrace’ has now been released in Europe as well as Australasia. With a follow-up album coming the expectations are rising again.
Nathan is no stranger to success (here or offshore) but to break into a difficult market releasing analogue classic 50’s style Jazz demonstrates his appeal. This is not just a lucky break but the result of hard work, Savvy, skilfully written charts and knowing who to choose as bandmates. Although Alain Koetsier (drums) has been working in China for a year he had already gained a solid reputation in New Zealand before he left. He can be heard on a number of top quality recordings where his chops and musicality are self-evident. Pianist Kevin Field has released a few albums of his own as leader and of particular note is his last release ‘Field of Vision’ (Produced by Nathan and released on the Warners label). The original bass player Thomas Botting is no longer with the band and in his place is the talented Ben Turua. This is the second time that I have seen Ben play with this band and he is a good choice. Sadly he is moving to Sydney after the recording.
On the night of the CJC gig we heard a mix of tunes from ‘Poets Embrace’ and some new compositions. Some were so new that they had never been played before in public. I assume that at least a few of these will end up on the new album. The first set started with a selection from Poets Embrace and it was immediately obvious that they were back on familiar ground and ready to notch it up a level. Nathan quickly established the melody and just as quickly moved to explore what lay beyond. Together they mined the material for new stories and the level of confidence was noticeable. The newer material was a little more tentative but this was a first outing. With the recording session due very shortly I have no doubt that we will hear an album every bit as exciting as the last. This music has its echoes in the era of 50’s Coltrane and others but here’s the interesting thing; Nathan has a young and an older fan base. This is a timeless music for the universal man (and woman).
Nathan is hopefully going to include a few of the vocal numbers he performed on the new album. His song ‘Impossible Beauty’ from ‘Sound Travels’ was an attractive haunting tune that stuck in the memory. I rate his (slightly husky) voice highly and I hope he adds vocals to his repertoire more often. The male Jazz singer is sadly an endangered species.
Last weekend the band played ‘The Sawmill’ in Leigh. The seats sold out quickly and to all accounts the gig was amazing. If there is anyone who hasn’t yet purchased a copy of ‘Poets Embrace’ do so immediately and grab up the new album upon release (in Vinyl or CD). I can promise you endless replays.
Who: Nathan Haines Band with Kevin Field, Alain Koetsier & Ben Turua.
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) the basement 1885 -Britomart – downtown Auckland
Last week saw the Nathan Haines Fourtet return to the CJC with an altered line-up. Alain Koetsier the former drummer is now running a language school in China and Thomas Botting has packed up his bass and moved to Australia. Above all we knew that this would also be the last time that we would see Nathan for while as he moves back to the UK in July.
In place of the departed musicians we heard Stephen Thomas on drums and Ben Turua on bass. There had also been some changes made in the club configuration and it was surprising how the rearrangement of furniture subtly altered the sound. The sight lines were also greatly improved for those standing along the bar and near to the entrance. I have heard this material at four different gigs now, but for accessibility and quality of sound this gig worked the best for me. It was great to be able to watch Kevin Field at work as the piano was no longer obscured by the bar.
Those of us who have been listening to the ‘Poets Embrace’ album for months knew the material backwards, but with new personnel, such keen improvisers and an extremely enthusiastic audience we were always going to get something different. We did.
I like every track on the album but if pushed I would single out ‘Ancestral Dance’ as a favourite. The version on the night was blistering and it captured the drive and ethos of the band perfectly. As Nathan mines deeper into this material he constantly finds new ideas and it has been a real privilege to watch this project grow from its inception to this final CJC gig three-quarters of a year later.
This album has achieved a rare feat in New Zealand. It rose to number three on the best-selling album list and tracks from the album rocketed up the charts to unprecedented heights. To those of us who have rated the album highly this has not been surprising, but here’s the interesting thing. This is no-holds-barred model jazz of the sort that came out on the Impulse Label.
Younger listeners found this no barrier and embraced it whole heartedly, which was evidenced by the age of the audience at the gigs. Nathan has always had a diverse following, but this journey took us to a new place in our Kiwi Jazz journey. For that he deserves our deepest respect and we wish him the best as he returns to London. This era that is so faithfully evoked was the high water-mark of analogue sound and the warmth and glow is evident in the recording (see earlier blogs on Jazz Local 32 for the methodology of ‘The Poets Embrace’ recording).
An undoubted highlight of the evening was the tenor battle between Nathan and Roger Manins. It was our own version of the Sony Stitt and Gene Ammons tenor sessions. The crowds whooped in delight as this full-throated exchange occurred. It was a night never to be forgotten.
The clip I have included here was filmed in the weeks before Alain left for China and so Stephen is not yet in the band. The lineup on the night was Nathan Haines (tenor sax), Kevin Field (piano), Ben Turua (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) – guest Roger Manins (tenor sax).
Some die-hard Jazz fans complain that the modern jazz scene doesn’t produce enough music that sounds like that of the ‘classic era’. This mythical era that they remember so fondly didn’t exist in the way they thought. They forget that Louis Armstrong accused Dizzy Gillespie of playing ‘Chinese music’ and that Bill Evans was accused of not swinging.
The Jazz in any defined era has always sounded surprisingly different from the music that preceded it. Jim Hall circa 2012 sounds nothing like the Jim Hall of the early ‘Pacific Jazz’ Era and why should he. This is not a music to be set in aspic or to be kept in a hermetically sealed container to protect it from impurities. Jazz is not a fragile dying art form but a vibrant improvised restless music that lives perpetually in the now. As Whitney Balliett so famously said it is ‘the sound of surprise’.
Kevin Fields new album illustrates this premise perfectly.
On Wednesday 25th April the CJC (Creative Jazz Club of Aotearoa) featured pianist Kevin Field as he promoted his ‘Field of Vision’ album. Being a fan of Kevin’s, I had been quick to obtain a copy of the album and I was delighted by what I heard. This was music with a deep groove and an unmistakable pulse. The banks of synthesizers, the singers and the electric bass lines had given it a distinct Soul Jazz context. Out of this came a series of mesmerizing grooves, which engulfed us in a way that made definitions quite meaningless. As the band played at the CJC we sunk happily into a warm vibe that made the Autumn night seem very far away.
The club gig kicked off with ‘See Happen’; a number that drew us deeper and deeper into a vamp while figures on the piano created a pleasing filigree by way of contrast. The next number ‘imaginary friend’, opened the vistas wider. On the album this was especially noticeable as the Steinway Grand, Fender Rhodes, Prophet T8 and Roland Jupiter 8 worked beautifully over the four piece string section
It had an almost cinematic feel to it and I could not help but be reminded of the work of Creed Taylor’s CTI label. Instead of CTI’s Don Sebesky this album had utilised the services of Wayne Senior who arranged the string section. The first airing of this material had been in the Kenneth Myers Centre and it was therefore fitting that Wayne Senior had been involved as his connection with the KMC goes back a long way.
The album was produced by Nathan Haines and his handiwork is evident throughout. He plays alto flute, an ARP synth and is credited as co-composer on 4 of the 11 numbers. The rest of the numbers were written by Kevin and they are probably his best work to date.
The band that Kevin brought to the CJC was a smaller unit than on the album and that is just as well because the club was packed. A small club has a very different sound to a recording studio and the warmth and intimacy is the obvious benefit of being in that space. When you buy the disk (and you should) you will notice a broader sound palette, a bigger line up and a crisper sound. Both experiences are complimentary and anyone attending who has also purchased the album will count themselves lucky.
Stephen Thomas had been brought in as drummer for the CJC gig and he had sweetened the deal by a congratulatory email that he sent to Kevin after the initial release. “Man those were some sick grooves” he had messaged. Kevin immediately confirmed him as right drummer for the gig. Stephen is a terrific drummer and the choice was a good one.
Once again we saw Dixon Nacey perform and as always we watched open-mouthed. This man is so good that it is frightening. Completing the lineup were guests; Nathan Haines, Marjan Gorgani and Clo Chaperon (the latter had great soul voices). All added something essential to the rich mix and in Nathan’s case this is only to be expected.
I would also like to mention Karika Turua. He played a big Fender bass and his grooves although loud, were as big as his guitar.
There were a few quieter piano passages as well and on these we hear the crisp touch, the harmonic exploration and the crunched chords that have become so familiar to us in Kevin’s playing. Kevin has many fans in New Zealand and most will have heard his previous piano trio album ‘Irony’ (Rattle Records). Although different I would regard both as essential purchases as we follow Kevin Fields career.
The CJC band was: Kevin Field (Leader, Yamaha piano, Fender Rhodes, Synth) – Dixon Nacey (guitar) – Stephen Thomas (drums) – Karika Turua (bass) – Marjan Gorgani / Clo Chaperon (vocals) – guest Nathan Haines (alto flute, soprano sax).
On the album were: Kevin Field (Leader, Steinway piano, Fender Rhodes, Roland Jupiter 8, ARP Odyssey,Prophet T8 ) – Nathan Haines (ARP Odyssey, alto flute) – Dixon Nacey (guitar) – Joel Haines (guitar) – Mickey Ututaonga (drums) – Migual Fuentes (percussion) – Karika Turua (bass) – Bex Nabouta/ Marjan Gorgani/Kevin Mark Trail (vocals) – Cherie Matheson (backing vocals) – Miranda Adams/Justine Cormack (violins) – Robert Ashworth Viola) – Ashley Brown (Cello) – Chris Cox – (drum programming).
This album can be purchased in any major record store or for more information contact ‘Haven Music’ a division of ‘Warners Music NZ’.
All photographs by Peter Koopman – Gig venue/CJC Jazz club Auckland
I have watched drummer Alain Koetsier perform over the last year and his credentials on the traps are unimpeachable. Alain is a drummer with a modern feel and it is plain to see why so many of our top Jazz groups utilise him. This was probably his first outing as leader and he had chosen wisely on two fronts. His band mates were consummate professionals and their approach to the music was intuitive. They interacted as if with one mind. The second thing Alain did well was to select a set list of recent compositions by New Zealand Jazz Musicians. I liked the concept.
People expect a band to play their own originals but when a set list focuses on a wider spectrum of Kiwi Jazz compositions it feels respectful. It somehow lifts the tunes to another level of availability; a place of wider appreciation. Doing this is a good start point in identifying our own ‘standards’ and some of the tunes played could well reach that bench mark. As the scene continues to mature this will surely happen.
Alain & Dixon
I was pleased to hear two tunes which had impressed me at recent gigs; ‘Dicey Moments’ by Oli Holland and the wonderful ‘Ancestral Dance’ by Nathan Haines. Both of these new compositions are distinctive, clever and memorable. Dixon Nacey compositions also catch the attention as he has a knack for locating the right hooks while providing a solid base for improvisation.The first set had contained ‘Bad Lamb’ (Dixon Nacey). The tune had nice chordal voicings and the way it unfolded led us easily into the heart of the tune.
Another memorable number was ‘Tree Hugger’ by the Auckland-born bass player Matt Penman. Matt has moved into the upper echelons of Jazz bass, occupying a respected place on the world scene. Maybe he will return the compliment one day and acquaint North America with a few of the other compositions.
The gig was fun to experience and obviously fun to play as the musicians enjoyment of what they were doing was easy to discern. Like many Jazz gigs there was a high degree of spontaneity and perhaps this came from being thrown in at the deep end. Working musicians seldom have a lot of time to rehearse and when confronted by complex charts they appear to relish the prospect.
The musician that I was unfamiliar with was Pete France on tenor. I know that he has played the CJC before and my friends tell me that they had hoped for his return one day. His tone is rich and full and his improvised lines meaningful. He is also relaxed on the bandstand and when you consider the calibre of his band mates this ease of manner speaks volumes.
The band featured Oli Holland on bass. His approach and focus drew you in inexorably as he demonstrated chops, impeccable timing and melodic invention. His skills are considerable, as he can move from contrapuntal walking bass to melodic invention in an eye blink. Oli gave his best, but then he always dies.
Pete France & Oli's hand
Lastly I come to Dixon Nacey. His playing is widely appreciated throughout the NZ Jazz scene. As good as he is, he always strives to do better. His compositions sing to us and his chordal work and rapidly executed lines astound. It is good to be in a town where this man is playing and long may it continue.
On the 29th November 2011, those lucky enough to be at Nathan Haines CJC gig heard him playing ‘The Poets Embrace’ material. As far as I know, this was the first public outing for the band and everyone who attended quickly grasped the importance of the event. Hearing Nathan exclusively playing tenor (and not just any tenor) was intriguing because he is noted for being a multi reeds and winds player. This gig was somehow different and it had a focus that was palpable. It was about authenticity and it was about a deeper exploration of Nathan’s music.
Nathan’s approach to his music is a comment on his professionalism. He divides his time between the UK and New Zealand and he recently headlined at Ronny Scotts Jazz Club in London. Nathan is one our most talented musicians and I have learned that he never does things half heartedly.
Following that gig Nathan and the band cut an album. The producer was flown in from London, the vinyl was pressed at Abbey Road, the tenor was a Selmer Mk 6 (ex Brian Smith), The piano was a Steinway B, The recording was made at the York Street studios on analog equipment and using classic microphones….I think you get the picture….glowing valves….absolute authenticity. Above all this is terrific music and it may become the bench mark for future New Zealand Jazz albums. The album will be released by Haven Records a division of Warners Music and it should be widely available.
The album is to be released on the 19th March (available on CD or limited edition vinyl) The promo video is also worth watching as it conveys a real sense of the music we are about to experience. The attention to detail is evident and one senses that the narrative is an important part of this journey. People should book now for the launch, which is on Friday March 23rd, 8pm at the Monte Christo Room (behind the TVNZ building Nelson Street). The entry price for the official launch is $25 pre-sales/$30 at door. For those who are otherwise engaged on Friday why not get down to JB Hi Fi between 12pm – 12:30pm (any day 19th – 23rd). If you do you will hear the full band. It is impressive that a mainstream outlet like JB’s has been so supportive. Please turn up if you can and this will encourage the store to support more Jazz releases in the future. If it is wet outside so what, there is no cost to attending and what could be better; Jazz on an Autumn Day.
These are all great musicians as you will soon hear. They are; Nathan Haines (ts), Kevin Field (p), Thomas Botting (db) Alain Koetsier (d).
For the gig review see my earlier blog post “The Nathan Haines Fourtet”.
Some weeks ago it was posted on the CJC website that Nathan Haines would be bringing his new band to the club and that this particular band was to be an acoustic Jazz lineup. The talk among local musicians was that Nathan had been wrestling with some bold musical ideas and that after a trip to France and three months of wood-shedding he was now ready to unleash those ideas on a Jazz audience.
Anyone interested in the Auckland music scene will have followed Nathan Haines career and know that he has wide crossover appeal (here and overseas). As a multi-reedist and flutist he is proficient on a number of horns and for a while people wondered which instrument he would play for this gig. That was soon made clear when the details were posted. He would be playing a classic 1963 Selmer Mk VI – purchased from Brian Smith earlier in the year. This is an instrument with real provenance and in a way that set the bar even higher.
The acoustic feel that the band are striving for goes way beyond the choice of instruments, because they intend to record in a few weeks and will wherever possible avoid using modern equipment. It is Nathan’s view that recording technology has deteriorated over the years and so they are intending to use old style Neuman mics, the fabled EMI Neve desk and to record directly to tape with no mixing or overdubs. There is also talk of them hiring a Steinway B for the recording.
As the threads of information gradually came together it was clear that this would not be any run of the mill gig and in line with expectations the band attracted the biggest crowd the club has yet seen.
The members of this band are all well-known to club attendees, but Nathan Haines and Kevin Field (piano) are obviously the veterans here. The name Kevin Field alone is enough to pull a good crowd, but couple his name with Nathan Haines and a capacity standing room only audience is the result. On bass was Thomas Botting (who has recently taken Movember to its extreme limits). He may be young but he is a terrific bass player. I often stay back for the Jam Sessions just to hear Thomas and his friends, (usually playing alongside Peter Koopman and Dan Kennedy). Thomas can edge up the tension by executing a well placed pedal point or walk his bass lines in a way that is reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison. This makes him a good choice for this uber-acoustic hard-driving lineup. The remaining band member is drummer Alain Koetsier. This is the third time that I have seen Alain play and I have always been impressed. His ability to lay down complex polyrhythms and push a band hard is well-known. On this night he was at his fiery best.
The first number ‘Universal Man’ (by Nathan Haines) was intense and up tempo and this signaled the get-down-to business mood of the band. They were ready for this gig and clearly ready to push at the boundaries. While they conveyed a strong sense of purpose this did not constrict them in any way as they ate up the changes; hungry for the next layer of the tune to be unraveled. Nathan soared on this and on other numbers, reaching into the past for reference points but more importantly bringing all of his recent experience and learning to the moment. This was a 2011 version of a classic jazz lineup.
Next came a ballad ‘Poet’s embrace’ which was both lyrical and deeply probing. Nathan continuously mined the tune for newer and deeper meanings. His tone was luminous and his playing (even on the ballads) conveyed the intensity of the moment.
That chiaroscuro effect established the vibe; which became a hallmark of the programme. These contrasts in tempo and mood were well placed as they kept the audience focused. Two pieces perfectly illustrate this skillful placement.
While Nathan had written and arranged most of the pieces, the fourth number, Ravel’s Pavan (Pavane pour une infante défunte) deserves comment. This famous piece was a miniature of perfection. To have added another bar or even another note would have ruined the mood. Very few bands can resist the inclination to over-egg-the-pudding in situations like this and I congratulate the band for keeping to the spirit of the piece. What was added was subtle and it revealed a deep understanding of the music. Colourist drumming, well placed bass lines and skilful minimalist chord placement; giving Nathan the platform he needed. This illustrated perfectly the maxim that less is sometimes more.
The last piece ‘Consequence’ was a powerhouse performance. So intense was the mood and so up-tempo was the pace that the audience seemed to lean back; as if a freight train was passing. Each instrument soloing often and with each solo the tension increasing. The drumming was so powerful that one of the audience swore that the kit remained airborne throughout. This was an in-the-pocket performance and over that crescendo of sound Nathan blew up a storm.
At one point Brian Smith had joined the band and to see him and Nathan performing Wayne Shorter’s ‘Speak no Evil’ was great (I have always loved Shorter’s material). Two of our best tenor players belting out the unison lines and constantly challenging each other during solos. Kevin Field had also contributed one piece ‘Raincheck’. Kevin’s compositions are well constructed and appealing.
The band finished after two long sets looking exhausted but satisfied. So were we.
I will await the new recording with great interest. This was a performance that it would be hard to improve on, but with a band this focused that may just occur.